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Home & Graveyard

Stretcher Bearers in a Trench, by Richard George Mathews.
Copyright Canadian War Museum (CN 8993).

Stretcher Bearers in a Trench, by Richard George Mathews.;

The stretcher-bearers shown in this painting are grim testaments to the perils of trench warfare. Front-line trenches endured artillery bombardments, poison gas attacks, and a variety of other enemy attacks. In addition, commanders regularly ordered "trench soldiers" to charge over the embankments. Tens of thousands of men perished in these assaults.

For most of the First World War, the trenches defined the life of the Canadian soldier. Long, winding ditches cut into the ground, the trenches of friend and foe were sometimes scant yards apart. Canadian soldiers lived, fought, and died in these trenches. Imagine waiting in these ugly slashes in the earth's surface while enemy artillery shells rain down around you. You are wet and afraid. You listen to the bombardment and the unbearable screams of the injured and dying. You wait for the signal for your turn to go "over the top." Do you wonder if, this time, you will be killed by machine gun fire or dismembered by shrapnel? In a few moments, will you be one of those screaming for help? Or do you even dare to think these thoughts? Then, the signal comes, and, with desperation, fear, and courage, you rise up and charge towards the enemy. The miracle is that so many soldiers found a way to survive the fighting, even as they found a way to survive the horror of the trenches.

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